COLUMBUS — Elyria’s Armando Torres had been hearing about one rule of wrestling throughout his junior season: You must wrestle a complete six minutes.
In the 113-pound state championship match Saturday night, Torres wrestled flawlessly for five minutes and 40 seconds.
The final 20 seconds cost him his moment of joy.
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Brecksville senior Aaron Assad scored a late takedown in the third period to erase Torres’ one-point lead and capture the Division I title. Torres felt little consolation as the state runner-up.
“He had a great tournament and he had a great season,” Pioneers coach Erik Burnett said. “He’s beaten some studs this year. A couple days later, I’m sure he’ll look back at his season as a success. Right now he’s not looking at it like that, but that’s how winners think.
“There were 16,000 people in the arena that would love to be second place in the state, but the guys that are winners don’t look at it like that. When the guys that want to win every time go out there and finish second, they think, ‘Man, this stinks.’”
It was the fifth meeting of the season for the two wrestlers, with Assad winning all five. He captured one-point wins at the Walsh Jesuit Ironman, Brecksville Holiday Tournament and the Bill Dies Memorial at Akron Firestone. He won by two in the CSU district final, and won 7-3 Saturday night after adding a five-second nearfall to his late takedown.
“It’s a pleasure to wrestle him,” Torres said. “He’s a tough wrestler, a good kid. I wish it would have came out differently at the end, but I’ve got to keep my head up.”
It was the second-closest Torres had come to beating Assad in the series.
“The one at Bill Dies was probably a little more intense,” Assad said. “I was losing with eight seconds to go and I punched an underhook and threw him down and won right at the buzzer. This one there was a little more time, but there was a lot more at stake.”
Torres spent the majority of the first period fending off Assad’s shots before finally scoring a takedown for a 2-0 lead. Assad made it 2-1 with a second-period escape, then tied the match when Torres was hit with his second stalling call.
“He’s really good at pushing into you and making you look like you’re stalling,” Torres said. “I just kept pushing in and trying, but I couldn’t defend it.”
Torres took a 3-2 lead when Assad stood him up to start the third period. It was a lead he held until a late charge paid off for the four-time state placer.
“I got nervous at that point because I knew he’s coming out with everything he’s got in the last 20 seconds, especially in the state championship,” Torres said. “I should have moved my feet more in that third period. It’s hard to get him off of his game plan. I just had to go at him … and couldn’t.”
Torres mentioned the six-minute mantra late is his postmatch interview. It was the first thing that came out of Burnett’s mouth.
“We talked about it a lot,” Burnett said. “Physically, you can’t tell when someone’s taking a break. But if you get your elbow out a little bit or you get on your heels a little bit … those are breaks. I don’t mean like being lazy, but we’re just not quite as focused as we need to be.
“When you get down to 30 seconds left in the match and something like that happens, the other wrestler is more focused.”
Torres is the seventh state finalist for the Pioneers while Burnett has been at the helm. Andrew Perez finished as a two-time state runner-up, Kodie Egnor finished second three years ago, and the Mitcheff brothers — Dan and Steve — and John Pycraft won state championships.
“Danny Mitcheff, once he started to put a whole match together, he won down here,” Burnett said. “Same with Stevie, Johnnie Pycraft … the ones that have won here or done well (at the nationals) in Fargo or even in college, they finally figured out how to put that full match together.
“Armando does it a lot, but just sometimes he doesn’t … and I think that’s what got him tonight.”
Torres said he won’t be making the same mistake during his senior season.
“This is definitely motivation for next year,” he said. “I don’t want to feel that feeling again that I felt at the end. So I’m going to keep working hard.”
Neither Torres nor Assad was ready to say he was glad the rivalry was over. They agreed that the other was one of their toughest opponents of the season.
“It’s definitely hard beating someone that many times,” Assad said. “A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, he’s going to get Assad this time.’ But I just go in there with the mindset to do what I do best and focus on what I’ve got to do … and that’s what I did in the match tonight.”
So is Torres happy that Assad is graduating and he won’t have to see him again?
“Usually I’d say yes, but finishing the year off 0-5 against one person, I’d like another shot,” he said. “I would like just one win in that column.”